Many visitors to Salt Lake City take in the sights: Temple Square, the Utah State Capitol, the Beehive House, Hogle Zoo — and Beauty Lab + Laser.
What? Tourists travel to a strip mall in Murray where customers can get their lips plumped, Botox and skin treatments?
It’s true … because Beauty Lab + Laser is co-owned by “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” cast member Heather Gay. And the business has been featured in the show semi-regularly. The parking lot is where the Housewives were when police descended, searching for cast member Jen Shah, to arrest her on federal fraud charges. (The show’s third season debuts Wednesday, Sept. 28, on Bravo.)
“I mean, I never expected to be in a party bus with a SWAT team of Homeland Security, FBI and NYPD in bulletproof vests and automatic guns swarming the parking lot,” Gay said. The show’s fans “come just to be a part of pop-culture history.”
Brian Gianelli was visiting from Los Angeles back in February and made a point to stop by. “I only took a photo outside — didn’t go in,” he said. “But I did tag Heather on Insta, asking where she was, and she reposted it to her Insta story.”
Other fans go inside looking for Gay. “I hope that they come in,” she said. “You just walk in, say you’re there, say you want to take some selfies. ... They don’t need to buy anything, although we have merch. They can buy a t-shirt or a lip mask. They don’t have to have their lips injected.”
From Botox to buying the business
Gay’s road to owning a med spa began when “a friend hooked me up with a facial plastic surgeon who said, ‘If you do my Instagram and run my social media, I’ll give you Botox for free.’” She gradually became more involved in the business, “and when I got divorced and had a little bit of settlement money, he said, ‘Do you want to buy it?’”
Depressed by the end of her marriage and wondering what to do with her life, she agreed. “I said, ‘I’m dead inside. Why not?’ That’s the truth,” said Gay, who is both sharp-witted and very funny on the show. “As much as I wanted to turn my face to the wall and just, like, die, I couldn’t turn it down. Listen, I am scrappy. I am [Latter-day Saint] pioneer-ancestry scrappy. Industry and enterprise are in my blood!”
She bought the business in 2016, renamed it, and brought in her best friend, Dre Robinson, as her business partner on Jan. 1, 2017. “So we have gone from virtually unknown to, five years later, being a juggernaut in the med spa community.”
Beauty Lab + Laser employs 30 people at the Murray location, and a second location is scheduled to open in Riverton in November, which will add two dozen more people to the company’s payroll.
“I’m going to have 54 employees, and we’re worth $25 million. And that’s just the baseline valuation,” Gay said. That’s a considerable accomplishment for a couple of “stay-at-home moms that launched a business with zero loans, zero debt. We bootstrapped it from the beginning.”
Tragedy and giving back
Two days before filming began on season 1 of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” Robinson’s brother, Tim, took his own life. Gay and Robinson immediately started The Don’t Leave Foundation.
“And now 30% of our business is free services to self-harm and track-mark victims,” Gay said, referring to people scarred from heroin addiction. “We treat them for free until their scars are as eradicated as possible. It’s a tangible, real thing we can do.”
It has become “a huge part of our business. I look on the schedule every day and I see these patients that are coming in and I know that it’s making a difference. And that is the most important part of our business.”
They’re hoping to expand the effort. “We want to subsidize every med spa nationwide with the funds from our foundation, to allow these types of free treatments to exist,” Gay said.
Not an ‘uppity’ business
It’s not an accident that BL+L is in a strip mall with Big Lots, Dollar Tree, Walgreens, a nail shop, a hair dresser and a plasma donation center.
“We built our business on being non-uppity,” Gay said. “We’re next to a Dollar Tree on purpose. That wasn’t out of budget constraints, that was to democratize self-care. Moms want to get their prescriptions, get the balloons for the party, get their Botox, get their face cream and go home.”
The BL+L staff are “people from all races, religions, genders, sexualities, backgrounds. So it’s a really welcoming, low-key environment. We’re not chichi at all. There’s no fur rugs.”
Gay said she and Robinson “built the business on our lifestyle. … Good parking, accessible, no pomp and circumstance and, like, just diminish some of the bulls--- In our lives right now. Just bring it down a notch.”
Business was booming at Beauty Lab + Laser before “RHOSLC” premiered, and it positively exploded after the show debuted in November 2020. Which is great, but the show has “eclipsed our success as business women,” Gay said.
Gay owns 60% of the business, and Robinson owns 40%. (They call themselves “Dreather.”) “She is an operations girl and I’m a creative girl,” Gay said. “We look at the numbers together, and the numbers are the one thing that never lie.”
The numbers showed that Beauty Lab + Laser doubled its business when “RHOSLC” premiered.
“The only factor that was different between our business and others in our industry was the show,” Gay said. That and Beauty Lab + Laser’s 100% satisfaction guarantee. “We have disrupted the industry and we have really created something,” Gay said. “And because of who we are and the way we were raised and the culture we’re in, it just hasn’t been considered as the powerhouse it really is.”
Her pride in her business shines through when she gets a chance to talk about it. Which isn’t often. She said that when she was asked about it for this story, it was the first time any publication has inquired about the business.
“I mean, I take jabs at everything about me and my character,” Gay said. “But the business is sound and my partner and I built it from nothing. It was a bankrupt Titanic with barnacles on the bottom of the ocean. And it is like this ship of dreams now. I never get a chance to talk about it, but I want to be remembered for the fact that I was a good entrepreneur and a smart businesswoman.”
An unexpected career path
Running a business is not something Gay envisioned for herself when she was a dutiful, stay-at-home, Latter-day Saint wife and mother, raising her three daughters.
“Ten years ago, I would’ve said, ‘I summer at Lake Powell. I UEA in Midway. And I have my beautiful, perfect children,” she said. “And all I care about is being a mom.”
Despite her success, Gay said she still struggles to see herself in her new role. “Just saying I’m a businesswoman — I don’t think I could have even spoken those words 10 years ago,” she said. “I just never considered it as an option. And I thought of it as unattractive, to be quite honest. I thought that beautiful, perfect girls never work a day in their lives. …
“But the business itself, outside of my children, is what I’m most proud of.”
She said she encourages her daughters to find something that makes them happy and pursue it, and she wants other women to do the same.
“It has brought me more fulfillment and more self esteem” and made her realize “what I was willing to suppress or disregard in order to be happy the way I thought I should be.”
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